Archaeology and John’s Gospel

Archaeology and John's Gospel

Scholarly opinion is reconsidering its conclusions about the author and historicity of the Fourth Gospel

Wilson Paroschi

The Gospel of John is at once the most influential and the most controversial writing in the New Testament. On one hand, its unique and profound theology has been decisive in shaping the church’s understanding of the person of Jesus Christ. On the other, it has been accused more than any other Gospel of possessing no real value in the search for the historical Jesus.

A number of archaeological discoveries, however, have called such a negative assessment into question. Though archaeology will never be able to prove the historicity of the particular events recorded in this Gospel, and much less establish John’s theological statements on the basis of verifiable data, some of its findings have shed considerable light on the historical and cultural setting of the Gospel and, as such, have caused many scholars to rethink the way John’s message should be interpreted.

Modern Interpretation of John

All four Gospels in the New Testament tell the story of Jesus, but not in the same way. Each evangelist presents a different portrait of Jesus. The differences among the first three Gospels, however, which report a considerable amount of common traditions about Jesus, are not as significant as the differences between them and John.

Though sharing the basic outline of Jesus’ ministry, as well as some sayings and incidents, John places Jesus’ ministry mostly in Judea, not in Galilee; and omits several important episodes of Jesus’ life, such as His birth, baptism, transfiguration, exorcism of demons, and agony in Gethsemane. The Last Supper and the prophetic discourse are also missing. Another difference is the portrayal of Jesus Himself. Important emphases in John, such as Jesus’ full divinity and pre‑existence, are virtually absent from the Synoptics.

The Johannine Jesus does not use narrative parables—not even the word "parable" itself—or short sayings., but preferably long and thoughtful discourses. He is also constantly using words that are scarcely used in the other Gospels (e.g., love, to love, truth, true, to know, to work, world, to abide, to judge, to send, to witness) and prefers speaking of Himself metaphorically as the bread of heaven, the true vine, the good shepherd, the door, and the light of the world.

Most significant, however, are the miracles of Jesus, which in John seem to be more extraordinary than those reported by the other evangelists. New Testament scholar Ernst Käsemann is correct when he says of the Fourth Gospel: “Judged by the modern concept of reality, our Gospel is more fantastic than any other writing of the New Testament.”1

Until the mid‑18th century, such differences represented no problem for most Bible interpreters. Being the work of John, the beloved disciple and a leading figure in the apostolic church, it was generally thought that his account of Jesus was more personal and therefore more authoritative than those of the others. Mark and Luke were not eyewitnesses of the events they recorded, and Matthew, though being one of the Twelve, never achieved the prominence that John did. Taking John as the starting point, it was then possible to harmonize the Gospels and so to minimize their differences.

In 1776, however, J. J. Griesbach broke off from such an approach, contending that all four Gospels cannot be treated together. In his synopsis of the Gospels, he ignored the Gospel of John almost completely and simply placed together the parallel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke for the purpose of comparison.

The separation of John’s Gospel from the others was not in itself hermeneutically wrong, but once separated, its differences and peculiarities came to the fore at a time when the Enlightenment was starting to impact biblical interpretation. For one thing, newer and more critical approaches to the Bible were felt necessary, particularly in relation to the use and handling of historical evidence, which were entirely distorted, to say the least, especially because of the old theory of verbal inspiration and inerrancy of every part of Scripture. For another thing, biblical interpretation was made hostage of a radical rationalism, that is, the rejection of any form of supernaturalism and the consequent abandonment of the very notion of inspiration itself, so that ultimately the Bible became nothing more than an ancient document to be studied as any other ancient document.

As a result, the authenticity of John’s Gospel came under heavy fire. In the eyes of rationalist Bible scholars, stories like the marriage feast of Cana and the raising of Lazarus could not be true, implying that the fourth evangelist could not have been an eyewitness of the events he describes. One of the first attacks came in 1792 by Edward Evanson, who referred to the miracle in Cana as “incredible” and “unworthy of belief.”2

If the Fourth Gospel was not history (biography) or an account historically reliable, what was it then? It did not take long for alternative theories to appear. In 1835, D. F. Strauss introduced the term myth to describe the content of John; other terms that were used in the 19th century and beginning of the 20th include idea, philosophy, allegory, andtheology.

Whatever the term, the idea was the same: The Gospel of John was not the personal testimony of an eyewitness, the best loved of Jesus’ disciples, and its account should not be taken historically. The modern mind could no longer accept at the mere historical level what was felt to be nothing else but the expression of a religious idea in concrete form by an ancient writer.

The notion that John’s Gospel was not history but was written to convey a theological idea found a creative expression in F. C. Baur, in the mid‑19th century. For Baur, John was not an apostolic document, but a post‑Pauline Christian reflection whose purpose was to promote the concept of a unified (Catholic) church. As such, it could not have been written before the second half of the second century, and, of course, was not historically reliable. “The Johannine Gospel,” he said, “from beginning to end . . . has no concern for a purely historical account, but for the presentation of an idea which has run its ideal course in the march of events of the Gospel story.”3

Although Baur’s positions were too artificial and exegetically indefensible, his influence on subsequent Johannine scholarship was remarkable. The so‑called Tübingen School, of which he was the leading figure, dominated the scene for an entire generation. At the turn of the 20th century, only a few conservative interpreters still held the traditional view that this Gospel was the testimony of John the son of Zebedee.

Another blow against the historicity of John was struck with the arrival of the religio‑historical school, in the late 19th century. Attempting to tie the rise and growth of all religions to purely naturalistic and historical causations, this school affirmed that Christianity was nothing more than one phenomenon among the many religious phenomena of the Hellenistic world. As such, John’s theology and concepts were explained in the light of other contemporary religions, like mystery religions and Gnosticism. Still using the basic scheme provided by Baur, Otto Pfleiderer, the founder of the religio‑historical school, maintained that the Gospel of John did not belong “to the historical books of primitive Christianity, but to its Hellenistic doctrinal writings.”4 The Johannine Logos, the light/darkness dualism, the descent/ascent motif, and the Greek term for “Lord” are only some examples of concepts that would have been assimilated when Christianity moved from Palestine and its Jewish environment to the broader Hellenistic world.

These ideas were taken even further by Rudolf Bultmann in the first half of the 20th century. Brilliant in his reasoning and consistent in the application of the historical-critical method, Bultmann’s interpretation of John’s Gospel was devastating: John’s language, whenever it reflects supernatural categories, was entirely mythological; it is not to be taken on the historical level as a source of information on the life and teaching of Jesus; its conceptual world was not Jewish, but Gnostic; the Redeemer that came from heaven was inspired by the Gnostic myth; the Gospel is not original, but a conflation of several previous documents; it was not written by a single author, but was the result of a composition process in which several editors or redactors were involved; the text as we have it does not make sense, so it needs to be reorganized; and to be understood, it needs to be demythologized by means of an existential interpretation. In other words, almost nothing of the traditional understanding of John was left. Bultmann’s radical criticism was so overwhelming that, for a while, it appeared the Gospel would never recover from it.

It is true that not all of Bultmann’s ideas gained universal acceptance, even among more radical Johannine scholarship. It is also true that, despite all the challenges, several conservative scholars continued to maintain a more traditional view of John’s authorship and date. But in the first half of the 20th century, there was widespread consensus on at least three points: (1) The fourth evangelist was not a direct eyewitness and therefore had to depend on sources; (2) his background was not Jewish; and (3) his Gospel was actually not about the historical Jesus but about the Christ of faith, that is, it is a theological expression of the church’s faith late in the second century and read back into the life of Jesus.

But then things began to change, and archaeology played an important role in this change.

Archaeology and John’s Gospel

The first archaeological discovery to impact the interpretation of John’s Gospel was a small fragment of papyrus, known as Rylands Papyrus 457 and listed among the New Testament manuscripts as P52, measuring only 2½ by 3½ inches and containing a few verses from John 18: parts of verses 31 to 33 on the recto, and of verses 37 and 38 on the verso. Although it had been acquired in Egypt in 1920 by Bernard P. Grenfell for the John Rylands Library in Manchester, England, it was identified and published only in 1934, by C. H. Roberts. Using paleographical techniques, Roberts dated the fragment to the first half of the second century; most scholars argue for a date no later than A.D. 125.5

Despite its size, the significance of this papyrus for the interpretation of John cannot be overemphasized: It is a material evidence that this Gospel was circulating in Egypt already at the beginning of the second century and, as such, it contradicts those theories according to which John was not written until the second half of the second century. This shows, among other things, the inadequacy of Baur’s description of earliest Christianity. In fact, not only John but all New Testament documents are now generally assigned to the first century. It is not altogether impossible, thus, that the Fourth Gospel was authored by an eyewitness to Jesus. In any case, it would not be necessarily removed from the world and setting it portrays.

Still, in the first half of the 20th century, several other archaeological discoveries in Palestine seemed to challenge some of the assumptions held at that time by most Johannine scholars. Attention to this was called by archaeologist W. F. Albright in a number of publications between 1924 and 1956. Among other things, Albright argued that the several topographical references in the Gospel could hardly have been made without some degree of familiarity with the Palestinian and particularly the Judean situation before the First Revolt (A.D. 66-70).

In fact, the number of John’s topographical references is rather unique within the New Testament. There are 13 such references, and if details not mentioned in the Synoptics are included, the number increases to 20. In a time when most interpreters believed John was fictional, these references were treated as symbolic rather than historical recollections. According to Albright, however, considering the degree of the devastation created in Palestine and especially in Jerusalem by the Roman armies and also the almost complete break in the continuity of Christian presence in those areas after the war, any correct data that could be validated archaeologically or topographically must have been carried into the Diaspora in oral form by Christian refugees. Indeed, later Christian tradition does tell of the escape of some Christians from Jerusalem to Pella in Transjordan.

In a 1956 article, Albright discussed only three examples of locations considered to have been positively identified by archaeology: the place where Pilate brought Jesus (John 19:13); “Aenon near Salim,” where John the Baptist was conducting his baptismal work, “because there was much water there” (3:23); and Jacob’s well at Sychar, “a Samaritan city” (4:3‑6), which he identified with Shechem. Interestingly, the first two of these identifications, as well as the exact location of Sychar, would be contradicted by later archaeological discoveries.

In an updated, comprehensive survey of the archaeological status of all topographical references in John, Urban C. von Wahlde indicates that of the 20 Johannine sites, 16 have been identified with certainty: Bethsaida (1:44); Cana (2:1, 11; 4:46‑54; 21:2); Capernaum (2:12; 4:46; 6:17, 24); the harbor (6:24, 25); the synagogue (v. 59); Jacob’s well (4:4‑6); Mount Gerizim (4:20); the location of Sychar (4:5); the Sheep Gate (5:2); the pool(s) of Bethesda (5:2); Tiberias (6:1, 23; 21:2); the pool of Siloam (9:1‑9); Bethany, near Jerusalem (11:1‑17; 12:1‑11); Ephraim (11:54); the Kidron Valley (18:1); the Praetorium (18:28, 33; 19:9); Golgotha (19:17, 18, 20, 41); and the tomb of Jesus (19:41, 42). Of the remaining four, two can be narrowed to within a relatively restricted area: the place in the temple precincts for the keeping of animals (2:13‑16) and the place where Pilate brought Jesus (19:13); the other two are still highly controversial: Aenon near Salim (3:23) and Bethany beyond the Jordan (1:28; 10:40).6

In his concluding observations, von Wahlde makes two important statements. The first is that archaeology has confirmed the remarkable accuracy of the topographical information in John, with a great number of details provided in some instances. As a matter of fact, he says, “It is precisely those places described in the greatest detail,” as in the case of the pools of Bethesda, the place of crucifixion, and the location of Jesus’ tomb, “that can be identified with the greatest certitude.” The second statement is that there is “no credible evidence to suggest that any of the twenty sites is simply fictitious or symbolic.” Though acknowledging the possibility of some sites having a secondary symbolic meaning, von Wahlde concludes that “the intrinsic historicity and accuracy of the references should be beyond doubt.”7

Despite the premature identifications endorsed by Albright, his main contention remains valid: John’s early Palestinian and Judean topographical references must derive from Diaspora Christians in the Greco‑Roman world, probably by means of orally conveyed tradition. This means that instead of a second‑century creation completely detached from the time and places of the events it describes, the Gospel of John does contain good, ancient reminiscences, which necessarily favors the authenticity of its content. As Paul N. Anderson declares, “Albright’s archaeological contribution forced biblical scholars to consider again significant aspects of Johannine historicity, having been sidestepped by the previous century or more of critical scholarship.”8

The 1940s witnessed two other important archaeological discoveries bearing on the interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. The first occurred in late 1945, when 13 fourth‑century leather-bound codices written in Coptic and containing no fewer than 49 treatises were discovered in a storage jar beneath a large boulder in Nag Hammadi, a site near the Egyptian village of al‑Qacr. Since the codices probably reflect second‑century traditions and combine Gnostic and early Christian elements, the whole question of the impact of Gnosticism upon the New Testament, particularly John, was reopened. It was claimed that indisputable evidence of Gnostic influence on the Fourth Gospel had finally been found..

Careful investigation, however, has led most scholars to reject this hypothesis. Simply put, the Nag Hammadi documents do not furnish any evidence at all of a pre‑Christian Gnostic redeemer, as described by Bultmann and several others, that might have influenced the theology and literature of the Gentile churches, of which John’s Gospel would be the finest example. If these documents allowed, for the first time, Bible scholars to encounter the Gnostics in their own words, they also witness to the distance that exists between Gnostic ideas and those of the New Testament. Arthur D. Nock says that the Nag Hammadi writings confirm what is already implicit in the church fathers, namely, that Gnosticism was indeed a second‑century “Christian heresy with roots in speculative thought.”9

The final discovery to help rescue the reputation of John’s Gospel for historical reliability was the Dead Sea Scrolls. Discovered in 1947 near Khirbet Qumran, close to the ruins of an ancient Jewish settlement, the scrolls consist of a large number of biblical manuscripts, mostly fragmentary, and of other documents as well. Since they have been shown on the basis of paleography and carbon‑14 tests to date from the period of Christian origins (200 B.C.–A.D. 70), these documents are of great interest not only to Old Testament research and the history of Judaism, but also to New Testament scholarship, particularly in relation to John’s background. The scrolls have made it plain that even before the Christian era there already existed in Palestine a literary setting in which Jewish, Greek, and even pre‑Gnostic religious ideas were combined in a way that once was thought to be unique to John and of the second century onward.

There are several examples in the Dead Sea Scrolls of the dualistic theological vocabulary found in Johannine and later Gnostic literature. These are mainly evident in the Manual of Discipline or Community Rule. In cols. 3 and 4, for instance, are found words such as world, truth, falsehood, light, darkness, peace, joy, and eternal. These are typical of early Christian literature, particularly the Gospel of John. Also, expressions such as “practicing the truth,” “the Spirit of Truth,” “Prince of Light,” “sons of light,” “sons of darkness,” “the light of life,” “walk in the darkness,” “the wrath of God,” and “the works of God” are used in ways that are clearly reminiscent of John.10

Parallels and points of contact between the scrolls of Qumran and John are numerous, and this has been decisive in establishing the fundamental Jewishness of the Fourth Gospel. It is no longer necessary, nor correct, to appeal to an eventual second‑century Hellenistic or Gnostic milieu to explain the distinctiveness of this Gospel. Though the conceptual and theological differences between John and Qumran should not be overlooked, the similarities in vocabulary and images are of great importance in determining the nature of Johannine tradition: It is now possible to demonstrate that this tradition is much closer to that of Christianity itself than it had previously been thought possible.

Recent Johannine Scholarship

The Dead Sea Scrolls prompted what became known as “the new look on the Fourth Gospel.” This is precisely the title of an article published originally in 1959 by John A. T. Robinson, in which he questioned five old presuppositions related to the reliability of Johannine tradition that had mostly underlain the Fourth Gospel research in the preceding 50 years. The presuppositions were so widely accepted, the consensus so strong that Robinson could even speak of what he termed “critical orthodoxy.”11

By explicitly referring to the Dead Sea Scrolls and other archaeological findings that vindicated John’s knowledge of the topography and institutions of Palestine prior to the Jewish war, Robinson spoke of what appeared to him to be straws in the wind, but which he was inclined to take seriously, because all of the straws were blowing in the same direction. Then, at the end of the article he expressed his conviction that Johannine tradition is not the result of a later development, but goes back to the earliest days of Christianity.12 So the question whether John’s material is historically reliable or theologically conditioned, that is, whether the author should be regarded as a witness to the Jesus of history or to the Christ of faith only, Robinson’s answer was clear: “Because he [John] is the New Testament writer who, theologically speaking, takes history more seriously than any other, he has at least the right to be heard—on the history as well as on the theology.”13

So the stage was set for more concrete actions concerning the issue of history in John. The first practical results, though rather imperfect, came in 1968, when J. Louis Martyn published his acclaimed little book on the redaction of the Fourth Gospel. The Nag Hammadi documents and the Dead Sea Scrolls helped to restore the essential Jewishness of this Gospel and, by means of redaction analysis, Martyn tried to locate the proper historical life‑setting that could best explain John’s most striking literary feature, the Jewish leaders’ fierce hostility to Jesus. For Martyn, the reason for that is because the evangelist and his community were engaged in a serious and even violent exchange with a local synagogue, from which they separated.14 The separation would have occurred near the end of the first century when the Jewish religious leaders excluded the Christians from public worship by adding a curse against them, the Birkat ha‑Minim (“Benediction Concerning Heretics”), to the synagogue liturgy.

Though few have accepted Martyn’s thesis in all of its details, virtually all Johannine interpreters became persuaded that despite being profoundly theological, John’s theology is not floating in the air, so to speak, totally isolated from or unaffected by history. This was indeed a huge advance in relation to previous research, and this is Martyn’s main contribution to Johannine studies, though he remained rather skeptical about the historicity of the Gospel story as a whole. It is true that he suggested that the Gospel preserves two historical levels, that of Jesus and that of the evangelist, but, in line with classical redaction criticism which was still under the influence of a strong anti‑supernaturalistic view of reality, he actually believed that the traditions about Jesus have been so thoroughly reshaped and rewritten in face of the prevailing circumstances at the evangelist’s time that the historical figure of that early first‑century Galilean can hardly be glimpsed through the Johannine lens.

After Martyn, and still within the atmosphere of excitement created by redaction criticism, a relatively new issue started receiving a disproportional amount of attention within Johannine scholarship—the community that supposedly was responsible for the Gospel’s origin. There was, therefore, a complete shift of focus away from the person and identity of the evangelist to his community. The attempts to reconstruct the historical and theological developments of that community, however, were so diverse and speculative that the whole enterprise soon began to crumble. Martyn himself compared the avalanche of reconstructions, including his own, to a genie which had been let out of a bottle and which was “not proving easy to control.”15

After two or so decades, dissatisfaction over the value of historical‑critical approaches caused Johannine scholarship to follow two opposite directions. On one hand, several new interpretive methodologies were adopted, such as sociological and literary criticisms. The latter, for example, is essentially a postmodern and reader‑oriented approach that attempts to interpret the text without appealing to anything that lies outside or beyond it (e.g., its historical setting) and assuming its unity against all forms of source and redaction‑critical techniques. This means that the old questions of authorship and historicity lose their relevance altogether. On the other hand, and in part because of the same archaeological findings reported above, the issue of history in John was reopened and started to be tackled again in a much more straight and objective way than ever before.

Even with redaction criticism still on the rise, Robinson’s “new look” was already increasingly impacting contemporary Johannine scholarship on several fronts. In 1966‑1970, Raymond E. Brown published his influential two‑volume commentary on the Fourth Gospel, in which he took a relatively conservative approach on questions such as authorship and historicity. Much of the same can be said about several other important commentaries which were published around the 1970s. Other scholars assumed what can be described as an intermediate position between widespread skepticism and complete historicity. They rejected, for example, the idea that the Beloved Disciple was the author or even a person who could have supplied firsthand historical information, but were willing to accept that whoever was responsible for this Gospel had at his disposal at least some reliable traditions.

Two twin areas of research in which long‑standing positions also soon began to change had to do with the genre of the Fourth Gospel and its relation with the Synoptics. Different as it is, John is not a theological treatise per se, but a Gospel, that is, a narrative of Jesus’ ministry, and as such it stands together with Mark, Matthew, and Luke. This is what it claims for itself (20:30, 31), and this is what it is.

Like the Synoptics, the Gospel of John begins with the appearance of John the Baptist and ends with the passion narrative, and everything is within a chronological framework that seems much more complete and accurate than theirs. Already in 1969, Käsemann was impressed by the fact that “John felt himself under constraint to compose a Gospel rather than letters or a collection of sayings” and found this to be detrimental to some of Bultmann’s arguments. “For it seems to me,” he said, “that if one has no interest in the historical Jesus, then one does not write a Gospel, but, on the contrary, finds the Gospel form inadequate.”16 Moreover, John’s author claims to be a direct eyewitness of at least some of the events he records (21:24; 19:34‑35; cf. 1:14), which strongly emphasizes the importance for him of Jesus as a historical figure. In 1 John, he is even more explicit on this (cf. 1:1‑3; 2:18‑25; 4:1‑3; 5:6‑9), and the Epistle would make little or no sense at all without the Gospel.

This led to a complete re-evaluation of the traditional consensus that John was dependent on the Synoptics. As early as 1938, P. Gardner‑Smith had already argued that John was written independently from the Synoptics, a thesis that was taken even further by C. H. Dodd, a couple of decades later, and which was congenial with the historical value of John. After an exhaustive analysis of the Gospel, Dodd concluded it was highly probable that the fourth evangelist employed an ancient (oral) tradition independent of the other Gospels and deserving serious consideration as a contribution to the knowledge of the historical facts concerning Jesus Christ. Independence, however, is not in itself equivalent to historicity, as dependence does not necessarily make a composition fictional. So, even if it can be demonstrated that John did know and used one (usually Mark) or more of the other Gospels, in view of the cumulative evidence this can no longer detract from John as containing genuine tradition.

The fact is that, in recent years and as an integral part of the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus, Johannine scholarship has reached a point at which the historiographical character of the Beloved Disciple’s testimony is argued for as powerfully as never before. Though scholars don’t come to the point of identifying the Beloved Disciple as the Apostle John, their works signal an important trend in the Fourth Gospel’s contemporary research, namely, the rehabilitation of John as a source for the historical‑Jesus quest.

This trend culminated with the establishment, in 2002, of the John, Jesus, and History Project at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meetings. The project, which is now in its third triennium and has raised considerable attention within Johannine and Jesus scholarship, is intended to examine foundational questions about both the nature of the Fourth Gospel and its historicity. The voices are still not speaking in unison—they probably never will—but is significant convergence among the various discussions, such as more attention to John’s particular type of historiographical memory and the way he understands history, continuous interest on the issue of John’s relationship with the Synoptics, a fresh approach to the history-theology debate, a call for interdisciplinary investigations, as well as for a more nuanced approach to Jesus studies. Even though the study still does not provide too many clear answers, there is a definite effort to put John’s Gospel in its rightful place concerning the quest for the historical Jesus

It is puzzling that though having more archaeological and topographical material than all three Synoptics combined, there are still those who consider John to be entirely non‑historical. In this case, how to account for that material? Where did it come from and why was it included? Was it only for rhetorical effect or to lend a sense of realism to the narrative? One thing that needs to be said out loud is that the attitude that takes that material as a positive sign of the character and origin of the Johannine tradition should not be so quickly dismissed as a misuse of critical sensibility.

Johannine research is deeply indebted to archaeology. The theological and philosophical approach of post‑Enlightenment scholars, who seldom applied historical analysis to the Fourth Gospel, was severely crippled by a number of artifactual and topographical findings. Such findings called for a complete reassessment of the problem of history in this Gospel and gave rise to more objective discussions of several related issues. Though the archaeologist’s shovel will never be able to demonstrate the veracity of statements such as “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14),17 “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (3:16), and “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31), or episodes such as the miracle at Cana (2:1‑11), the feeding of the five thousand (6:1‑15), and the resurrection of Lazarus (11:17‑44), it has helped more than anything else to put John’s Jewishness, antiquity, and even historical likeliness on a firm foundation.

That this Gospel was not written later than the turn of the first century can hardly be disputed. With regard to its conceptual background, scholars who still operate within the constraints of the religio‑historical school, thus arguing for Hellenism rather than Judaism as the main source of John’s ideas, are few. In relation to authorship, it is true that many interpreters still resist identifying the beloved disciple as John the son of Zebedee, but it is at least frankly acknowledged today that “there is always the chance that the apostle John may have been in some way ‘author’ of the Gospel we traditionally call ‘of John,’” as Francis J. Moloney says. He adds: “It is arrogant to rule any possibility out of court.”18

As for the historical reliability, though practically all scholars now agree that behind John’s material lie some good traditions, most of them continue to hold that a larger amount of that material still proves more suspicious than not. This, however, appears to be more the result of a presupposition that rejects supernaturalism than the conclusion of sustained argument. And this is where the discussion ends, for in the final account one’s reaction to this Gospel will always be bound to an individual decision, not so much to the weight of evidence (12:37; 20:29).


Wilson Paroschi, Ph.D., is Professor of New Testament at the Latin American Adventist Theological Seminary, Brazil Adventist University, São Paulo, Brazil. 



1. Ernst Käsemann, The Testament of Jesus: A Study of the Gospel of John in the Light of Chapter 17, Gerhard Krodel, trans. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), p. 45.


2. John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), pp. 15, 16.


3. Ferdinand C. Baur, Kritische Untersuchungen über die kanonischen Evangelien: Ihr Verhältnis zueinander, ihren Charakter und Ursprung (Tübingen: Fues, 1847), p. 239.


4. Otto Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity: Its Writings and Teachings in Their Historical Connection, W. Montgomery, trans. (London: Williams & Norgate, 1906‑1911), vol. 4, p. 2.


5. Jack Finegan, Encountering New Testament Manuscripts: A Working Introduction to Textual Criticism (London: SPCK, 1974), pp. 85‑90.


6. Urban C. von Wahlde, “Archaeology and John’s Gospel,” in Jesus and Archaeology, James H. Charlesworth, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 523‑586.


7. Ibid., p. 583.


8. Paul N. Anderson, “Aspects of Historicity in the Gospel of John,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed., Jesus and Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), p. 590.


9. Arthur D. Nock, “Gnosticism,” in Zeph Stuart, ed., Essays on Religion and the Ancient World (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972), vol. 2, p. 956.


10. James H. Charlesworth, “A Critical Comparison of the Dualism in 1QS 3:13‑4:26 and the ‘Dualism’ Contained in the Gospel of John,” in James H. Charlesworth, ed., John and the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Crossroad, 1990), pp. 76‑106.


11. John A. T. Robinson, “The New Look on the Fourth Gospel,” in Kurt Aland, ed., Studia Evangelica: Papers Presented to the International Congress on “The Four Gospels in 1957” Held at Christ Church, Oxford, 1957 (Berlin: Akademie, 1959); reprinted in John A. T. Robinson, Twelve New Testament Studies (Naperville, Ill.: Allenson, 1962), p. 94.


12. Ibid., p. 106.


13. Ibid., p. 102.


14. J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (New York: Harper & Row, 1968).


15. Thomas L. Brodie, The Quest for the Origin of John’s Gospel: A Source‑Oriented Approach (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 21.


16. Ernst Käsemann, New Testament Questions for Today, W. J. Montague, trans. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969), p. 41.


17. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this article are quoted from the King James Version of the Bible.


18. Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, SP 4 (Collegeville, Pa.: Liturgical, 1998), p. 8.